The tension in the room is palpable as students with their ten-year series books furrow their brows and sigh when they face yet another difficult question. I can hear the incessant “click-clacking” of university students and researchers furiously tapping away at their laptops. A man limps in, his greasy grey hair disheveled and sallow face sagging. His grubby yellow t-shirt hangs on his body as the cuffs of his pants drag along the carpeted floor of the library, the muffled slapping of his flip-flops on the floor ringing across the mute room.
He plops down onto a sofa unaware or uncaring of the glances thrown at him, some filled with pity, most with disdain or annoyance. His eyes droop and he quickly falls into a slumber as everyone turns back to their work shiftily. Silence once again prevails and the sounds of the library return…Only to be shattered by the jackhammer-like snoring emitted from this old man. Heads snap towards him and rage-filled glares are shot. I feel the annoyance well up in myself, a manifestation of my A-level-fueled anxiety. “How rude! Can’t he see everyone here is trying to work?” I think to myself as I turn up the volume of my music.
That evening, I trudged to the MRT from the library. Without the stress-induced frustration, my thoughts were granted clarity. Why was I so upset with him? In fact, why were we all so upset with him? Perhaps on some level, we believed that what we were doing was more important than him finding a place to sleep. Our academic and intellectual pursuits were more important than his attempt to fulfill his basic needs. We had abandoned kindness or any semblance of empathy. It led me to question then, why do we place more importance on intellectual and academic pursuits as compared to altruistic ones?
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